Some Specific Approaches Interfaith Families Use for Hanukkah and Christmas

Return to the Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families

Family celebrating

The families who use InterfaithFamily as a resource take a variety of approaches to home observances of Hanukkah and/or Christmas. Some Jewish partners like Christmas just fine and don’t feel the slightest awkwardness participating in celebrating it. Others feel very uncomfortable about having Christmas symbols or celebrations in their homes. This is another one of those issues that requires good communication, since there’s such a wide variety of possible reactions that an individual might have. So what are some of the more common decisions interfaith families make in their approach to the December holidays? Here are three possibilities, presented in no particular order:

A. Celebrate Hanukkah at Home and Visit Christmas (or Vice-Versa)

For families raising Jewish children, having Hanukkah at home and visiting relatives for Christmas can be a good option. For interfaith parents who have decided that they are raising their kids as Jews, this option creates the opportunity to model what it means to have a positive attitude toward being part of a multi-faith extended family, including participating in the different holidays that different relatives celebrate. This model works for parents who are comfortable saying to kids something like, “Daddy and I decided that what we both want is to celebrate the Jewish holidays in our home, and when we visit Grandpa and Grandma, to share in their Christmas celebration.” As with any other approach to the winter holidays, communicating well between parents and asking extended family members to honor and support how you’re framing things are ingredients for success.

Of course, this model can be reversed. Some interfaith families are raising Christian children, and they may want to flip this model and celebrate Christmas at home and visit Hanukkah

B. Celebrating Both Holidays in Your House 

Menorah and Christmas presents

In some interfaith households, there are decorations up for Christmas and Hanukkah. The family lights Hanukkah candles and spins the dreidel and also has a tree and stockings. For some families, this works. Doing both is a way to show that they value both parents’ traditions. Some families have a Christmas area and a Hanukkah area, while other families just divide the time, not the space.

If your family decides to take the approach of having both Hanukkah and Christmas at home, communicate with each other well, show unity of purpose to your kids, and let friends and family know beforehand. Some of them may have judgments – but if the both of you are united in your pre-planned decisions, then you can set your boundaries with those people and, if appropriate, prepare your kids in advance for comments or attitudes they may encounter among relatives or family friends. You can be transparent with your kids about what you’re doing and why, and tell them to take pride in who they are and who you are as a family regardless of whether or not others fully understand. This is an important life skill that will come up for kids, as they grow up, in many different areas of life, not just questions of interfaith issues.

If these issues are difficult for your family, talk them through with an extra measure of patience and a desire to understand what these different symbolic choices mean to each of you. If you’re an interfaith couple hoping to have kids but don’t have any yet, talk these things through now. If you’re an interfaith couple bringing kids from a previous union into your marriage, talk through your options in light of the decisions you’re making as a couple about how to honor the religious identities of the kids who came along before you were a couple, as well as any additional kids you may be planning to have together.

C. Do Christmas-Flavored Hanukkah or Hanukkah-Flavored Christmas

Some Christian families want to include and integrate Hanukkah into their Christmas celebrations, just like they want to include and integrate their Jewish relatives and friends. Some Jewish families want their children to have all the goodies of Christmas, without Christmas. You can already see some of this in any store that sells holiday or party decorations, in the form of large paper Hanukkah-themed ornaments and decorations for your house.

Sometimes these generous impulses lead to some creative syncretism (blending of different religions), like “the Hanukkah bush” and Hanukkah Harry as substitutions for the Christmas tree and Santa Claus. Christian relatives may acquire Jewish-themed Christmas ornaments or Hanukkah decorations to add to the festive feeling in their houses, or they may want to serve latkes with their Christmas roast. If your family decides to embrace some of these blended-symbols, be aware that this is another one of those areas that can trigger discomfort for some in the Jewish community. There is an emotional trigger point in parts of the Jewish community around even playful syncretism with Christianity. For families that decide on mixing or blending elements of both holidays, communicating openly and compassionately with in-laws or other loved ones well in advance can help reduce potential tensions, misunderstandings, or misinterpretations of the parents’ intentions.

The Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF